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On the importance of intent

You hear in a lot in organizations that intent is not important, only behavior is – because intent cannot be seen, while behavior can be controlled.

I seriously doubt that.

You can see intent if you are looking hard enough. Sometimes you can see it immediately, sometimes it may take some time, but intent is expressed in action eventually. That's what the good book already knew, and so does criminal law.

Intent is the source of behavior. If you only focus on behavior, you focus on the symptom, not the cause, and even if you eradicate the symptom, you will just get another symptom somewhere else, somewhere hidden, because the cause is still there. And do you really want to live in a world where all behavior is controlled all the time? We are already seeing some of what this looks like now, it stifles human interaction and with it all the good that could come with it, too.

On the other hand, the difference in outcome when focusing on intent rather than focusing on behavior is this: a person with good intent, when faced with a situation where they could do wrong and think they could get away with it, will still do the right thing. The behavior-controlled person will not – if anything, they will see it as an opportunity to break out of that control and finally get away with something, and they will be proud of it and see it as great personal success – and then find a good person to blame. But in the end, it will not only be the good person, but your organisation that will suffer. A good person, on the other hand, will do the right thing, even if they know they will be punished for it, which may just save your organisation in the long run.

Intent is everything.

Yes, good intentions can also lead to bad results. However, so can good outward behavior. Just as anything bad can be turned into something good somehow, anything good can be turned into something bad by a bad actor, and "good intent" can be used to justify bad means - but is it then still "good intent"?

In the end, when it comes down to it, we cannot always control the outcome. We can work, and hope, and do everything in our power, but in the end, we may not be able to control whether the ultimate outcome is good or evil.

But we can control what we become, whether WE will be good or evil - and that is all about intent.

(first published on LInked-in 24 Feb 2018)

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